The Special Audit Report on Misuse of the Vilathikulam Forest Reserve, conducted by the Auditor General, was released recently.
Allegations were made, since 2009, citing mass deforestation in the forest area surrounding the Wilpattu Forest Reserve, taking place under the guise of a resettlement project.
Based on these allegations, President Maithripala Sirisena instructed the Auditor General to prepare a report on the Misuse of the Vilathikulam Forest Reserve. The report was handed over to the Speaker of Parliament.
The Auditor General and the respective personnel prepared a comprehensive report which clearly explained the destruction of the Wilpattu Forest Reserve.
According to a gazette the Wilpattu Forest Reserve comes under a protected forest area in the sense the Fauna and Flora cannot be destroyed.
The following observations were made
- Even though the government had declared the Vilathikulam Forest as a Forest Reserve, 650 acres in extent from the said reserve had been released by the Conservator General of Forests to the District Secretary, Mannar for the resettlement of displaced people. Conservator General of Forests had no authority or legal authority to do so.
- An Environmental Impact Assessment Report should have been obtained before clearing the forest reserve of 650 acres in extent in terms of the provisions published in the Gazette Notification No.772/22 dated 24 June 1993.
- A decision had been made to inform the Conservator General of Forests to release the lands required for resettlement in the forest reserve at Vilathikulam at the meeting held on 05 October 2012 under the patronage of the Minister of Commerce and Industry. The aforesaid Minister had no authority to take such a decision.
- Even though construction of houses for 160 families had been completed, the number of families unsettled had been 33. The number of partly constructed houses was 131. Number of plots of lands on which houses were not constructed but cleared was 706. However, it was confirmed that only 10 per cent of the houses had been occupied out of 160 houses constructed according to the spot test carried out on 23 January 2017.
- Houses of 44 families of resettled persons had remained closed. Forty one houses thereof had remained unoccupied over a long period.
- Even though only the displaced families deprived of lands due to war should be resettled, the persons whom the lands were granted to, had not been deprived of lands due to war.
- A plot of 80 perches had been allocated to each person under no basis.
- In accordance with the Electoral Lists, it was verified that majority of the persons whom 1030 plots of land had been granted to, lived in the Puttalam district.
- The constructions of houses and roads required for settlement of the people in the forest reserve were being carried out by the Omega Construction Company (Pvt) Ltd at No.34, Kadumayankulam Road, Puttalam and it was established that Government financial contribution had not been made thereon.
The following recommendations were made
- To take steps to recognize precisely the individuals who lost their lands and provide them with an adequate plot of land in keeping with the national policies and the prevailing laws in the resettlement of the persons who were rendered displaced due to the civil war in the North and East.
- To take action not to clear the forest reserves or the areas of environmentally significance to be used for the settlement of persons.
- Action should be taken to grant other appropriate lands to the families permanently residing in the rest 20 per cent of the lands and maintain the forest in its usual form.
- Arrangements should be made to comply with the national policies in carrying out financial contributions and development activities by the local or foreign non-governmental organizations.
The following conclusions were made:
- Measures had not been adopted in respect of the damages caused to the forest reserve and the environmental damages that may cause in the days to come.
- This project has not been implemented for the sake of the landless and displaced families.